The Bush administration’s approach to increasing fuel-efficiency standards, expressed in a new rule published in the Federal Register this week, should come as no surprise.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s ostensible goal is to raise the fleet efficiency of popular but thirsty light trucks, including SUVs. So how come it does such a poor job of that while striking a blow at a successful state-level pollution program?
The administration thinks it’s wrong for government to tell business what to do. Thus the required fuel efficiency gain is as painless as possible: a pathetic 2.4 miles per gallon by 2011. Oh yeah, and the worst gas-guzzling SUVs won’t be counted until 2010 so they don’t bring down the average.
But what irks Bush and his business supporters even more is when states try to tell business what to do. As a result, the new rule asserts it will preempt the ability of California and 10 other states, including Maine, to set air-pollution standards that are tougher than national limits.
And what does auto mileage have to do with pollution? Bush and the auto lobby argue that the only way automakers can meet the new state targets is to reduce emissions through improved mileage standards. Since the 11 states represent a third of the domestic market, the effect would be a new national mileage standard tougher than the federal one.
That, says the administration, is a no-no. Only the federal government can set mileage standards, officials argue.
Earlier this month, the National Academies of Science said the benefits of California’s approach outweighed the costs. It declined to recommend that the Environmental Protection Agency preclude other states from adopting it.
If this administration’s philosophy won’t let it lead on this important issue, at least it should get out of the way.